Absolutely no relation to Kokoro Ramen (Instagram) on Victoria Drive, Kokoro Tokyo Mazesoba opened up in late September 2018 and has been buzzing all over Instagram ever since. It joins an interesting student-heavy area of downtown, located right beside BCIT Downtown Campus and is close to other places like Gyoza Bar, Ramen Gojiro, Peaceful, Baghdad Cafe, Koala Kebabs, Cartems Donuts, Smile Diner, and Cinara.
I went for lunch twice in two days to see what the fuss was all about. Great to finally have solid mazesoba (soupless mixed noodle) in town. Prices are a touch steep but the place is loud and busy, so I think they’ll do fine with the student crowd (who actually seem have a ton of discretionary spending money when it comes to food).
They’ve got some slightly wacky millennial person in charge of the sign board and their Instagram account.
Spacious, with big windows. Located right beside the BCIT parking lot.
This chain from Japan only started in 2013 but already has 15 locations in Japan, and locations in Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Spain(?), and now here. Their website has a prominent FRANCHISE button.
There’s a big glass awning so even if you have to wait outside, you’re covered.
There’s a luxuriously spacious, Instagram-worthy waiting area. You won’t need to hang out here that long because seats turn over fairly quickly.
You might be wondering why they didn’t convert this area into more seating. Apparently the city only allowed them x number of seats for the whole place, so they stuck in this generous waiting area.
Not all seats have hooks for your bags, and some seats are backless, which is a minor bummer. There’s a view of the kitchen, from where the staff shout out the standard Japanese greeting every time someone is seated, making this a very loud and noisy place to eat. I liked the energy but wouldn’t want to hang out here too long.
View out the front windows.
How much would you pay for ramen? One that doesn’t even include soup?
Read and learn. I’ve basically got the whole menu here.
Their website also has their menu but sans prices and descriptions.
“DID YOU GET THE RICE?!” – everybody once they heard that I ate here.
Minimum charge of $10 during lunch and dinner rush. You could easily spend double that though.
Menu says “multi-grain flour” but the staff were a bit cagey about exactly which grains were involved. My guess is white flour with a bit of whole wheat plus maybe barley? They also use “Japanese technology to soften the water” but since Vancouver has really soft water it’s not that big of a deal. (Vancouver’s water hardness is ~10 mg/L versus Calgary’s 169 mg/L, making our water the softest of the soft.) But it’s that attention to detail and consistency that makes chains great – if they’re not boring, that is.
“Kokoro Draft” is actually PBR 😀
Snacky staples. Okinawa Fruit Salad sounds special but totally not my jam.
The topping that stood out to me was the “grinded saba fish”, which is fish powder made from dried mackerel. Off the top of my head, the only other place that puts fish powder (gyofun) in their ramen is Ramen Taka, which they put in their worthwhile tsukemen.
Most bowls come with a raw egg yolk for you to break and form a sauce.
The Zenbu Mazesoba is their $17.99(!?) all-in option.
“Cheese”. What kind of cheese? Never mind. “Cheese”.
Mentaiko (spicy cod roe) with “Japanese cream sauce” sounds like a deluxe version of mentaiko pasta.
Vegan options are part of global chains now.
And cuz it’d be crazy to open a ramen place with a soup ramen option, there’s tonkotsu bowls as well — and another vegan option.
Mini-dons are a smart way of using what you already have.
Hokkaido soft serve.
Staff all look to be Japanese and Korean students. Plenty of staff on the floor during my two visits, although some are more on-the-ball than others. Service mostly good, mostly cheerful, and quick. This place is definitely not feeling the Vancouver restaurant staffing shortage, at least in the FOH.
Tableside condiments. Chili flakes, vinegar, and black pepper.
I love the idea of adding vinegar partway through to change and lighten the taste. My Top 3 fave Yaguchiya Ramen in Burnaby also offers vinegar (along with garlic, ginger, and chili bean sauce!).
Kombu spiked vinegar! What a stealth move.
Dried chili flakes.
Niku Mazesoba ($15.49) with chunks of chashu, spicy minced pork, raw egg yolk, nori flakes, “grinded saba fish” (fish powder aka gyofun), minced garlic, and TWO doses from the allium family, green onions and garlic chives. Bare noodles hidden underneath.
The setup is similar to Korean bibimbap where it arrives like this and you mix it all up before eating. (Thanks Wicca for that observation!)
Even though there was a chili pepper symbol next to this one on the menu, there was ZERO heat once you mix everything together.
The pork chashu chunks are quite firm and chewy. I can see why they don’t cook them more tender because they’d fall apart when you mix the bowl, but I think they could stand to be a little more tender. Flavour is still good but the texture close to Chinese char siu (bbq pork) and firmer than most Chinese siu yuk (roast pork).
Yeah, yeah, yeah…it’s all over Instagram. Break that yolk to release the #yolkporn. I’m guessing these are the cheapest commodity eggs available. If they don’t say “organic”, “free range”, “free run”, or even “omega-3”, you’d have to assume the same.
Once mixed, it resembles lo mein, creamy pasta, or dan dan noodles. I was a little surprised that one egg yolk could coat the entire bowl of ingredients but it does form a copious, flavourful sauce. Not overly rich. Spiciness of the ground pork mixture doesn’t come through the sauce, but you can add chili flakes to compensate.
The noodles are medium-thick, medium-firm, and moderately chewy. The multigrain quality isn’t that apparent although you can see flecks within the noodle. Perhaps a bit more body and flavour than the typical ramen noodle. No graininess or displeasing texture from the multigrain. (According to a comment on this Instagram post, they are working to “upgrade” the texture of the noodles. Very interesting as I didn’t think the noodles lacked anything, but we’ll see.)
Another stealth move: the noodle length is perfect! Each grab with the chopsticks brings up noodles that form a perfect slurpy bite, without you having to bite through a long noodle and leave noodle remnants/orphans in your bowl (ick!). Makes for a much cleaner, well-packaged, non-anxiety-producing eating experience.
A fair amount of sauce left over means…
…you can take advantage of the “free” palm-sized ball of rice, which arrives quickly after you ask for it. They take the time to form it into a ball. How Japanese.
The amount of rice has also been well-considered. Any smaller would be pointless, any larger would be gluttonous.
All mixed up and ready for the bonus round. It is like two (starch-heavy) meals in one.
Noodles plus rice almost ruined me for dinner, so I don’t think you’ll have any problem with the serving size.
No flaws or deficiencies that I can see in the mazesoba here. Maybe a bit too much green onions and chives but that’s a personal thing. The bowl just works. I expect no less from a well-honed concept from Japan.
Hokkaido Crème Cup ($4.49), soft serve made with organic milk using a “Japanese Nissei machine”, which you can see behind their bar area.
Adorably wasteful spoon shaped like a shovel.
Sweetness level is typically Japanese — it’s there just enough to be considered sweet but not moreso. Laidback flavour in general.
Unfortunately the soft serve has a powdery quality on the tongue. Doesn’t have the thick smoothness that I love about soft serve. Pass.
I can’t be spending this much on a workday lunch.
You get candies.
In a rare move, I visited Kokoro Tokyo Mazesoba a second time the day after. Not so much out of “OMG I LOVE IT” but more about getting a better sense of the menu and restaurant. Has it revealed most of what I’m interested in yet?
Seeing their rectangular, crispy skirt-adorned gyoza on their Instagram account made me curious, so I shared some with a friend this time.
Mentaiko Cream Mazesoba ($15.99) with green onions, spinach, nori, fish powder, minced garlic, chashu, cream sauce, raw egg yolk, and mentaiko (spicy cod roe, underneath the egg yolk).
If you’ve had mentaiko pasta before, this will remind you of that. Slightly salty fish roe with a hint of spice.
Their in-house multigrain noodles were pre-coated with “Japanese cream sauce”.
Closeup of the fish powder (ground mackerel). It tastes great straight but I doubt how much flavour comes through once you mix everything up. It might be a “miss it if it wasn’t there” type thing.
The Mentaiko mixed up. The briny fish roe essence comes through. The effect is like eating a creamy pasta, which this basically is. A good change from the more porky Niku bowl.
I didn’t end up with that much sauce but I got the free rice anyways. Enjoyable bowl that I’d order again. No flaws worth mentioning. Like the Niku bowl, it just works.
Pork Gyoza ($5.50 for five pieces). Well done crispy “gyoza skirt”, a rare sight for Vancouver. I like how the whole set forms a rectangle.
(Read this page for a bit of info on the “crispy dumpling skirt” phenomena. There’s also a comment by the cherubic Jonathan Gold (RIP) and the wonderful Andrea Nguyen in there.)
Love the rigid crispiness of the bottoms! One of the better frying jobs I’ve seen. The “skirt” part (made with a starch slurry) is a bit thick but crispy and strong. Most skirts I’ve seen (and made at home) are more lacey, delicate, and crispy, but the crunch of this one was satisfying.
The filling is cabbagey but didn’t bother me because the whole package is done pretty well. An ok filling made great by the well-executed frying job.
The bill was helpfully pre-split.
Overall I’m impressed (aside from the soft serve). They’ve got a concept, a menu, and a system that’s operating well. It’s busy and loud but for a quick, filling lunch it works well.
I do wonder if I’m going to tire of the mazesoba thing though once the new shiny dazzle wears off…or it might earn a spot in my rotation. Right now, I like it and sorta love it.
Bonus reading: mazesoba/mazemen was invented in Nagoya in 2008.